Post-Storm Scam, Fraud Warnings Issued

BERLIN — With residents throughout the region dealing with damaged homes, downed trees and submerged property this week, top law enforcement officials in Maryland and Delaware this week were warning citizens of a rash of scams and consumer fraud that has surfaced in the wake of last weekend’s storm.

Many residents throughout Maryland and Delaware are facing major repairs to their homes and businesses as a result of damages incurred during Hurricane Irene, but the Attorney Generals in both states this week were warning citizens of a criminal element that has emerged after the storm. As in most natural disasters, there are those who attempt to take advantage of the situation.

“Con artists may try to take advantage of you at your most vulnerable moment,” Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler said this week. “Be wary of door-to-door salesmen who follow disasters from state to state seeking to steal your hard-earned money. That could be money you’ll never see again for work they’ll never do.”

Gansler reminded residents the vast majority of home repair contractors, tree removal companies and car repair shops in Maryland are reputable businesses eager to help their neighbors and their communities recover from a disaster. He said the most are business people residents know and trust. However, he warned consumers to be wary of so-called businesses residents do not know.

Among the warning signs are traveling salesmen who come knocking on doors immediately after a disaster, high-pressure sales tactics, demands for up-front payments, demands for immediate decisions and advance fee loans that “guarantee” a loan to rebuild a home or business. Gansler warned Marylanders to check and see if a contractor is licensed by the Maryland Home Improvement Commission, deal only with contractors who have an established business in the state, obtain at least three bids for major repair work and, last but not least, obtain references.

According to the attorney general’s office, once a reputable contractor has been decided upon, residents should make certain all of the important details are written into the bid, including all of the work the contractor has agreed to perform, the dates the work will begin and is expected to be completed, the total cost of the job, the type and quality of materials to be used, how and when payments will be made and the provisions of the warranties on labor and materials.

In Delaware, Attorney General Beau Biden offered similar advice for residents of the First State faced with property damage repairs or debris clearing from their homes and businesses.

“Delawareans up and down the state have come together to help their neighbors in the wake of the hurricane, but the sad fact is that there are criminals who are always looking to take advantage of innocent people following a natural disaster,” he said. “Whether you are repairing damage to your home or yard, or looking to donate to a charity to help others, there are a few steps you should take to ensure you do not fall victim to a scam.”

In addition to home or business repair scams, Gansler also warned state residents to be wary of phony relief efforts, fraudulent charities and scam artists who use the name of an organization similar to a well-known charity. State residents should contribute only to organizations they know well and that willingly provide written information about their charitable efforts. Consumers should avoid making cash donations and always make checks payable to the organization, not the individual who is soliciting.